BOSTON, Massachusetts (NEWS CENTER) -- Long before the Boston Marathon bombings, Carlos Arredondo was a well-known and polarizing figure in Boston. Arredondo, a native of Costa Rica, could frequently be found protesting the war after his son, Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, was killed in Iraq in 2004.
In his uncontrollable grief after learning of his son's death, Arredondo attacked a Marine Corps van with a hammer and, he said, accidentally set himself on fire sustaining burns over nearly one-third of his body.
Several years later, his other son, Brian, took his own life after years spent battling depression and drugs. After his death, Carlos recommitted himself to raising awareness about the high suicide rate in the military and the issues faced by our troops and their families.
Then, the terrorist attacks in Boston changed everything.
"I was myself, with my wife, giving 400 American flags to the spectators," he recalled recently.
As wave after wave of runners passed the stands on Boylston Street, steps from the finishing their 26.2 mile journey, there stood Carlos, his wife Melida, and good friend John Mixon. They were cheering on the runners, with Carlos handing out all but one of those flags to veterans and friends.
"You know, we were supposed to celebrate and cheer when all this happened," he stated.
In the chaos after the first bomb blast, Arredondo and Mixon leapt into action, tearing back the barricades so first responders could reach the wounded.
"It was a horrible day," recounted John Mixon.
Mixon said they aren't heroes, just people who couldn't stand by and watch while others needed help.
"We had a lot of people do the right thing on that day," he said. "It could have been a lot worse."
"Pretty much everybody is doing something to help others in the wake, which is great," exclaimed Arredondo.
A photographer captured a now iconic image of Arredondo helping Jeff Bauman seek medical treatment after the bombs detonated. Bauman lost both legs, but gained Arredondo's respect and friendship. The two remain close, sharing an unbreakable bond.
A year later, he said everyone is still trying to heal.
"It has been a lot of things happen ever since then you know," Arredondo said. "Start with survivors that are still dealing with the trauma and the surgeries and all that that they have been going through the whole year, and they are still dong it, and of course the families of the victims, they are dealing with their own grieving."
The bombings propelled Arredondo into the national spotlight.
"He was just the same guy, only now he had a platform," explained Mixon. "[Carlos is] trying to make changes for our veterans and for suicide prevention and everything else."
"It is time to take care of the veterans and their families," proclaimed Arredondo. "Take care of the veterans when they come home and give them what they need.
"There is a lot of work to be done here, you know, and I am very happy to help anyway I can."
Arredondo's new found fame means a larger audience is now listening to his message, but much like the blood soaked flag he still has that he used to help stop Bauman's bleeding, the attention serves as a painful reminder of a moment in time he'd just as soon forget.
With the one year anniversary of the bombings just days away, those wounds feel fresh yet again.
"I don't know how they are going to react, but it is going to be a very delicate moment that we are sort of going to go through together," Arredondo said.
He plans on being back at the finish line, on April 21, alongside his wife, Mixon and Bauman. Once again, they'll stand there, cheering on the runners, choking back their emotions while celebrating the strength of the city and its response to help people recover.
"You're not going to ruin our race, and you aren't going to ruin our city," stated Mixon. Much like the marathon, he says the city of Boston will move on, stronger than before.
"It ended up that I helped somebody in the end, and somebody else will help others, and it goes on you know," agreed Arredondo.